3 Horrible Mistakes You're Making with Employee Engagement

One thing most executive HR leaders share is a strong desire to increase employee engagement. This is no surprise because companies reap benefits from engaged employees. A very large study by Gallup (over one million respondents) concluded :

It is possible to achieve high performance without high employee engagement, but the odds are four times as low.

Employee engagement has been a priority since several years for many HR professionals. So, you would expect the numbers to go up. But reality says otherwise. The scores are low and remain low. The 2016 engagement score equals the 2014 figure : 58% in Europe. Apparently, the millions spend on employee engagement buy us little.

It's high time to change tactics and not repeat the mistakes of the past. Let me share 3 lessons recent research teaches us.

1. Look at employee engagement as a daily process

I bet you know many companies that measure engagement yearly. It seems logical. Once a year you take a picture and work on the improvement points. For a yearly family picture where you see people age, this makes sense. But for an engagement that goes up - and down - it's useless.

Okay, I hear you. You're saying: "That's old news". And indeed, it is. The more advanced companies use pulse surveys to measure more often. Some go as far as to measure employee morale every two weeks. Whilst these are extreme examples, increasing the frequency is a good thing.

But it is not enough. In fact, there is evidence that engagement varies daily. The researchers used the emerging standard model of understanding motivation: the self-determination theory. This looks at three innate psychological needs we all share: autonomy, competence and relatedness. The authors found that 'feeling appreciated' was the best predictor for relatedness - and thus for feeling engaged. This finding is particularly useful since recognition - especially the peer-to-peer version - can happen very often. This way you can tune your lever for increased engagement and the daily engagement fluctuations to the same frequency.

Two conclusions: since employee engagement changes continuously, HR Officers should
1. measure engagement more often than once yearly
2. encourage frequent appreciation

Note: Aon Hewitt confirms praising co-workers for a job well done as the greatest opportunity for driving engagement.

Rewards & Recognition is the global top engagement opportunity in 2017

2. Provide encouragement to workplace Prisoners

Aon Hewitt defines 'Prisoners' as employees that are actively disengaged and staying. The longer an employee works at your organization, the more likely (s)he is to be a Prisoner. An average company has about 8% Prisoners, but with a 16-20 year tenure this increases to 12%. Two consequences:

1. If your organization has high tenure, you may be more predisposed to have a large proportion of Prisoners.
2. The problem is not going to fix itself.

The negative impact on overall engagement is double. By itself it decreases your engagement score. Additionally, it negatively impacts the work experience of those who are engaged.

Very often managers shy away from addressing these employees head on. Your role is to coach them to have these difficult conversations. Did you know that only 40% of Prisoners report that their manager provides encouragement to do their best? This signals room for improvement.

They key to cracking the Prisoner problem is to encourage them to do their best. With some this will awaken their unrealized potential. Managers should ask Prisoners two questions.

1. Are you sufficiently recognized?
2. What gives you a feeling of personal accomplishment?

Those that do not respond positively, should be reoriented to another position - inside or outside the organisation.

3. Apply the IKEA effect

In a very interesting 2016 issue of the Deloitte Review  I read about Thaler and Sunstein's book Nudge. It reveals many surprising truths about how people behave.

HR and management practices are often based on the belief self-interest alone motivates employees. But people value other things.

Money or positional power do not make people more engaged. They are extrinsic motivators. The opposite is intrinsic motivation, or the desire to do a job for its inherent rewards.

Three professors at Harvard, California and Duke University described this as the IKEA effect . Working hard on a self-assembled chest of drawers increases affection for it. Sounds familiar no?

We are strongly motivated by a feeling of creation, a sense of accomplishment and the need for recognition. To apply it in practice: help your employees to successfully complete tasks and show your appreciation for their great work.

To quote Deloitte again

Our research shows that "saying thanks" is one of the best things you can do to drive performance

Koen Schreurs
Employee Recognition Expert








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HR News: 3 Horrible Mistakes You're Making with Employee Engagement
3 Horrible Mistakes You're Making with Employee Engagement
HR News
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